It's a wonder Swartz has had time in his 18 years at Midas International Corp. to climb to the company's top safety position. But he says, "I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for being involved."
Indeed, fellow volunteers in the safety and health profession agree, doing good works is good for your career.
To be sure, safety and health employment recruiter Dan Brockman says not all employers think this way. "Sometimes when I show a company a resume loaded up with volunteer work they ask me 'When does this person have time to work?'" But Merrie Healy says she won't take a job with an employer who wouldn't support her volunteerism.
As health and safety director for Home Health, Inc., Healy, a registered nurse with a master's degree in public health nursing, relies on contacts she has met as chair of the National Safety Council's health care section and as president of Minnesota's Association of Occupational Health Nurses to help her stay current. "I'm not an expert in industrial hygiene, but I can pick up the phone and not cost this company a penny getting answers," she says.
With one part-time staffer to help her cover 41 company locations, access to professional peers is invaluable to Healy. "Volunteering has had a high level of payoff," she asserts.
How does she find the time? "You learn to be organized and to delegate." George Swartz coordinates his speaking engagements with Midas facility safety audits around the country.
Swartz and others attribute a recent decline in the numbers of professionals signing up for committees and pro bono safety work to tighter corporate budgets and smaller staffs: pros are finding it harder to get away from the office. But, they say, those conditions make it more important than ever for professionals to get involved. Access to the contacts and resources gained through volunteer work can be invaluable to safety managers and their downsized employers.
The rewards of donating your professional skills "can't be bought," insists Ron Paar, vice president for health and safety at John Deere Co., who estimates he spent 20 to 30 days on the road volunteering last year. By getting involved in local safety projects or national associations, Paar and others say you can: improve your communication skills, get help interpreting new regulations, become a good neighbor to your community, improve your employer's image, learn about other careers within the profession, and, of course, experience that satisfying do-good feeling.
Working outside your company also brings personal exposure, says Swartz. "Recruiters call and you give them names of people you've been with on committees. I've known a lot of people to get better jobs because their names got out through volunteering," he says.